Effects of Apartment Cleanliness on Impression Formation

How many times have you heard that nagging rhetorical question “What will others think if you don’t clean your room/apartment?” It seems that this question just calls for a rebellious teen-style answer – “Who cares?”. Or, “I’ll clean it when I want and for my own sake and not for others”. But really, what do people think when we let them in our messy apartments? Maybe they don’t care that much, like we all unsuccessfully tried to convince our mothers at some point. Or do they?

To do list: #1 Organize my books; photo by chotda

As discussed before, existing research suggests that elements of the built environment may reveal an occupant’s personality and that by using these elements as cues others may be able to accurately judge the occupant’s personality (see Home design and personality related). Following study by Harris and Sachau (2005) focused on the influence of apartment cleanliness on outsiders’ impressions of residents.

#2 Do the laundry; photo by Wahlander

Subjects (336 students) read one of six versions of a story about a resident (a male and female fictitious character) and the state of cleanliness of their apartment, which varied between clean and messy.

# 3 Clean the fridge; photo by Nikita Kashner

Subjects evaluated the character using bipolar scales that addressed the character’s neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (Five-Factor Model of personality, McCrae & Costa, 1999), as well as intelligence and masculinity-femininity.

#4 Wash the windows; photo by garryknight

Poorly kept residences were associated with low levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness, intelligence, femininity, and greater openness and neuroticism.

#5 Change bedding; photo by hownowdesign

Well-kept residences were not necessarily associated with higher levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness, intelligence, or femininity, but they were associated with lower levels of openness and neuroticism.

#6 Organize drawers; photo by jigabugbaby

Story characters without a description of the state of their apartment were associated with extraversion. Gender of the subject or the character did not influence the results.

#6 Enjoy your fresh and clean home; photo by ex.libris

So, for both men and women, there is no scientific support for being lazy about maintainance of our homes. With the exception of openness to experience, people tend to form unflattering impressions of messy apartments’ residents. There’s some inspiration for spring cleaning!
#7 Have some friends over; photo by yvestown

Harris, P.B. and Sachau, D. (2005)  Is Cleanliness Next to Godliness? The Role of Housekeeping in Impression Formation.  Environment and Behavior, 37, 1,  81-101. (link)

One Comment to “Effects of Apartment Cleanliness on Impression Formation”

  1. Interesting point. It reminds me of a discussion on the topic from a different angle I read on a blog once http://chezlarsson.com/myblog/2010/09/is-order-and-organization-off-putting.html.
    I’m under the impression a lot of my friends fall into this category, and they would laugh at me if I organized my books by color. It was only after this story I realized that the saying “a clean house is a sign of wasted life” can be really hurtful to someone.

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